A reader left a particularly curious comment to a post a couple weeks ago proving just how much more money we could accumulate if we remain in the workforce and continue subjecting ourselves to the tortures of corporate America.
This particular blog post was about 4 things “lifers” say, but from the perspective of our younger generation. The comment, written by LW, offers something a bit different. It was insightful and hard-hitting. The second I began reading, I knew I had to post a response. This was too good to pass up because it highlights a key point in early retirement.
His (or her) comments are in italics, and my responses are written underneath each section.
Why I can’t retire too early
1. By continuing to work and contribute to plans like a 529 & 401K, my investments will cover everything I want and college for my children. Providing for them a more simple start than I had in reaching where I am.
I think you are making an awesome choice for your kids. While some disagree with the presumed wisdom of funding your child’s education, I happen to support it for the right situations. More power to you for starting your kids off debt free! Student loans suck, hardcore.
2. The opportunity cost of retiring early as opposed to after 30 years of work is massive! If I retire at 55, in 20 more years I’ll have $1M just in my 401K, not to mention other investments, a company funded pension & have my house fully paid off. BUT if I wait 2 more years its another $250K, another 5 years and Im at $1.4M- which would provide $108K/year until I turn 81. Let’s say I go all the way to 65 now I am sitting on almost $2M, half from the last 10 years. I’ll have $108K/year to live on in retirement. Provide anything I want to my children and grandchildren. I may even put my grandchildren through college.
Respectfully, this sounds like the dreaded “just one more year” syndrome that many of us are plagued with before retiring early. “If I work just one more year, I could have X amount more money”. Just like the “What Ifs” in life, these scenarios are virtually limitless. Why stop at one year? If I work another five years, I’ll have even more money. How about 10 years? What if I never stop? Imagine the money!
The vast majority of early retirees understand that the longer we remain in the workforce, the more money we make. We get it. The math is tough to argue with.
However, I fear that you are missing a very important point in this discussion.
Early retirees prioritize their freedom and liberty over the greenback. Clearly, we all must do what is best for us. To those of us who have worked long, hard and smart to amass the wealth that we need to be happy, working additional years in corporate America, for the sake of even more money, is simply not worth the effort.
Life is short. We humans remember and enjoy the excitement in our lives, not the hours we spent sitting in an office. Early retirees understand what “enough” truly means. We work to satisfy our version of “enough”, then we stop.
Then, we can take control over our lives with enough money and resources to live a comfortable life that makes us happy, keeps us healthy and paints a near-permanent smile on our faces.
3. You are giving up free money, most companies pay a match on a 401K contribution. Say 6%, for the sake of easy math $6,000/ year they give me as a match for my 6% contribution. Doubling my money every month!!! Course I contribute more than that min 6%, but the company will give me more than $200K for free over the course of a career. That compounded with interest is about $500K after 30 years.
Again, early retirees value time and freedom over money. While you might sit in an office to make money, we might hike the Rocky Mountains, or fish the Mississippi River, or hell, maybe just read a good book…whatever makes us happy. We care more about stockpiling happiness than money.
4. I mentioned my other investments, there is also a company pension to consider, the company also pays dividends.
More money, then? Okay, got it.
So I am content not to eat my PB&J and “be free” from hard work. I’d prefer to put in the hours, develop skillsets above and beyond someone gaining no exposure to strong opinions, well developed peers, challenging business environments and experiences that build character.
If money is your primary focus in life, then perhaps you should never retire. There is always more money to be made if you keep at it, chugging through the years and earning those paychecks. Money, money and more money. Beautiful money.
More power to you, good sir! If working long hours (hard work?), developing skill sets, strong opinions, well-developed peers (huh?), business environments and “building character” float your boat, then I say go forth! After all, our only obligation in life is to do what is right for us. Find what makes us happy and pursue it with gusto.
Does working another 20 years make you happy? If so, great. I stand behind your willing desire to work longer than I choose to. I really do.
However, working another 20 years does not make me happy. In fact, it sounds downright horrible, and no amount of money is worth spending another decade or two doing something that I do not enjoy. I do not value money. I value my time. My happiness. My satisfaction out of life.
For me, life is too short to slave away for money. Money is great, but it is only a means to an end.
Happiness trumps money.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.